Plans to build Coon Rapids community center puts some on defense
- Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
- Star Tribune
- April 17, 2009 - 12:53 AM
A group of Coon Rapids residents is mobilizing in opposition to a proposed community center that the city is considering building on a site just south of Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
City Manager Matt Fulton holds up the community center plan as the centerpiece of a long-term vision to revitalize the ailing Coon Rapids Boulevard corridor. Opponents say it's a prime example of a city government grown too big for its own good.
About 30 people attended a meeting at the Crooked Lake Library branch last week; about 10 more were turned away for lack of space. Inside, residents Phil Rosar and Dale Koch ticked off a list of objections to city spending and revitalization plans. But most of the room's shared ire was reserved for the community center plan.
The gathering followed a series of neighborhood meetings in which city officials outlined strategies to replace the aging Cook Ice Arena. The plans ranged from a simple replacement skating complex, costing about $1.8 million, to a 152,000-square-foot community center, complete with gym, meeting spaces and an outdoor ice-skating trails. That plan could cost as much as $60 million.
City officials emphasize that this is not a shovel-ready project. Current economic issues aside, the long process of planning, public input and construction likely will take years. At the city-sponsored neighborhood meetings, residents were given a range of effects on property-taxes, depending on their homes' property value, and the scope of the project.
Still, discussion at the grass-roots meeting centered around the highest possible price for the center and the largest potential tax hit. Many said that, as senior citizens on fixed incomes, they are ill-prepared to pay for a community center they don't think they'll use.
Several pushed for the issue to go to a referendum, complaining that their views are not being heard by city officials.
"I'm most concerned about the way this is being presented to the citizens," Rosar said, "which was: do you want a red one, or do you want a green one?"
City Council members Scott Schulte and Denise Klint attended the meeting, but said they are hearing from many other residents who favor building a community center.
The next day, Klint said city officials know the center can't be built right now, given the state of the economy. "But because so many people are saying yes, this is something the city needs, we know we have to go forward with the planning of it," she said.
Klint noted public sentiment shared in calls and e-mails has run 10-to-1 in favor of building some sort of community center. Still, she acknowledged that in hindsight she would have changed the way the city presented the plan to residents.
"I would have presented it as, this is something we have been talking about for years," she said. "I would have made it more clear that ... [the $60 million scenario] is our wish list if we had unlimited funds, that this is what we would want, and then we would explore that after we listen to everyone."
The city is offering one more neighborhood meeting to discuss the community center as well as other topics, today at the Coon Rapids Senior Center.
The City Council will discuss the proposal and community reaction later this month.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409
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